pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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To Whom?

Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Today we return to the story of the ascension. We’ve jumped from the gospel of Luke to the book of Acts. Luke uses this key story to connect the life and ministry of Jesus to the life and ministry of the church. This hinge moment is very important. We catch a glimpse of it’s importance in verse 6.

Even after these 40 additional days of tutoring by the risen Christ, the disciples still ask, “Lord, are you now going to restore Israel?” At least a part of the disciples is still longing for a powerful and dominant Messiah. This part is focused on the temporal, on developing an earthly kingdom of man. It is focused on selfish desires, not in God’s desires.

Jesus once again corrects their misguided thinking: “It is not for you to know…” He refocuses them on the task at hand. In verse 8 Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is a different kind of power. This Holy Spirit power will come upon them and fill them with the words and example of Jesus. It will empower them to witness to who and what Jesus is and to who and what his followers are called to be. The Holy Spirit will lead them to the ends of the earth, carrying with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

This task remains the task of the followers of Jesus. There are many who do not know the salvation and grace, the joy and love, the hope and peace that Jesus Christ offers. And most of us do not need to go to the ends of the earth to find them. To whom shall you witness today?

Prayer: Lord, provide me an opportunity to share Jesus with another today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, use me today to change a life. Amen.


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The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. Amen.


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Our Task

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”.

As Luke continues the story of Jesus in his second book he summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus, including the forty days between his resurrection and the day Jesus ascended into heaven. We celebrate Jesus’ ascension in today’s passage. In verses four and five Luke recounts one of those forty days – the day Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus gathers this one last time with his disciples, they still don’t quite get the bigger picture. They ask if this is the time that Jesus will “restore the kingdom of Israel”. After a dismissive response – it’s not for you to know – Jesus gets to what is now important. In verse eight he tells the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”. Starting in Jerusalem and then moving to Judea, they will move on to Samaria and eventually to the whole world. The disciples will go forth to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. In an ever-widening circle the good news will radiate out from Jerusalem. Jesus then ascends into heaven, disappearing into the clouds. Two angels tell the disciples that Jesus will one day “come back in the same way”. We await that day.

As the disciples waited, they did not wait idly. They got to work organizing the church. Ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples and then the apostles and eventually the followers begin to preach the good news, working towards the ends of the earth.

Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all the world remains a work in progress. Almost 2,000 years later this remains one of the central tasks of the church – to make new disciples for the transformation of the world. It is the task of all who wait upon the Lord. It is my task. It is your task. It is our task. May we each faithfully witness to the power and love of Jesus Christ today and every day, doing our part to bring the good news to all people!

Prayer: Lord God, with all that I meet and interact with, may I be a witness to the life that Jesus Christ offers. May I bring Christ with me into all of my conversations, words, and actions. In all may you be glorified. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


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Walk and Listen

Reading: Luke 24: 13-27

Verse 21: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.

As Cleopas and his traveling companion walked along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus they were discussing the recent events in the city. These two were followers of Jesus. As he joins them, they are surprised that their new traveling partner does not appear to know much about what has happened to their Jesus. I live in a community of about 3,000. As I read the weekly newspaper I realize that there are lots of things that go on in town that I had no clue about. On a smaller scale, there are things that go on in my church that I sometimes find out about after the fact. There are some things that I am sure I will never know about. Now, neither of these are on the scale of a crucifixion – to Jesus’ family and followers. But there were certainly people living in and visiting Jerusalem just knew that three more men were punished by the Romans.

The two men walking to Emmaus seem to know a lot about these recent events and seem pretty connected to the other followers of Jesus. The phrases “some of our women” and “our companions” indicate a closeness to the early group of disciples and followers. They also knew the physical details of what all has happened to Jesus. They know the facts. But, as seems to be the case with almost all of Jesus’ followers at this point, they have forgotten both what Jesus himself said would happen over and over as well as what the prophecies say in the scriptures concerning the Messiah. These two, like the rest, are doubting what the women have told them. Because the companions that went to the tomb did not see him, they all question if Jesus really could be alive. Surely, surely, surely if Jesus were alive he would have come and comforted them in their grief and explained all that was going on to erase their confusion. Surely.

Jesus begins this process with Cleopas and friend. Walking along the road to Emmaus he explains all that the scriptures say that has now been fulfilled in Jerusalem. These two men who were hoping that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel come face to face with their redeemer. In grace, Jesus meets them where they are at and ministers to them, providing what they need. He offers the same to you and to me and to all people who seek to walk with him. May we choose to walk with Jesus today, listening to all he has to tell us this day.

Prayer: Father of all, walk with me, whisper into my heart. Fill me with your presence so that I may serve you this day. Amen.


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Hope Rising

Reading: Lamentations 3: 1-9 and 19-24

Verse 22: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”.

In a prayer calendar that I am using in this coronavirus season, the author titled today “Silent Saturday”. Life does go on outside my office window – I can hear the birds singing and occasionally a car passes by. But when I read Lamentations 3 and when I think of how the disciples and Mary and the other followers of Jesus must have felt, it feels like a silent Saturday.

Most scholars believe that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations just after the destruction of Jerusalem. In verses one through nine we can sense the pain and grief and mourning of the author. The writer feels cut off from God’s presence. He feels as if God were shutting him out. For the disciples and for many of us in this pandemic season, they must have related to these words just as we can relate. Feelings of isolation and of doubting God can become so real. As we read verse twenty we can feel it: “My soul is downcast within me”. Today feels like a silent Saturday. Some days it is good to sit in that place. Today is a good day to do so, to connect back to that room of fearful and grief-stricken followers of Jesus Christ.

Even though it is good to remember and to spend some time there, we do not have to remain there too long. As verses 21 through 24 unfold, we are reminded as Jeremiah was: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”. We too have hope. The disciples and followers had to wait for Sunday morning. They did not yet know. God came to Jeremiah and brought him “new mercies”. He experienced God’s great faithfulness. The disciples will. We do.

Today is also called Holy Saturday. This day reminds us of God’s goodness to humanity and to each of us. In the brokenness of today we can begin to sense the hope rising. We can begin to sense the unfolding of God’s plans that are good and wonderful. As we do so, may we rejoice in the goodness and mercy of our God.

Prayer: Merciful God, today feels hard. The isolation and separation feels ratcheted up due to what I fear is a hard decision about tomorrow. Mother Nature may be intruding on our plans. But maybe that is part of your plan. They are always greater. Help me today to be guided by prayer and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Expect

Reading: John 21: 1-14

Verse 13: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus makes His third appearance. When Jesus arrives about seven of the disciples are out in a boat. They have fished all night and have caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and directs them to cast their empty nets on the right side of the boat. Then, once ashore, we read, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

If we dig a little deeper, our passage reveals a few important things about Jesus and His relationship with His followers. First, He enters our lives at times unexpected. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, suddenly He is there on the shore. At times, Jesus will suddenly appear in our lives. Yes, He is always there. But at times that presence will be more – we can and do experience Jesus in a deeper or more meaningful way from time to time. Expect Jesus always.

The second thing we see is that Jesus is still in the miracle business. The large catch of 153 fish when there had been no fish for hours and hours triggers John to identify Jesus and Peter to leap into the lake. Yes, the risen Christ is still capable of miracles. This is not the answer to our prayers kind of miracle. It reminds the fishermen and it reminds us of just who our Jesus is – one who will surprise us now and then to help us along in our walk of faith. Maybe it will be a door opening to a new opportunity. Maybe it will be a revelation in a scripture or devotional that we are reading. Expect Jesus always.

The third thing we see is that Jesus continues to provide. He physically provides something of value and He spiritually provides for their faith too. The income from the fish will help the new ministry. The fact the Jesus comes and feeds them some bread and fish assures their faith. The risen and resurrected Lord will continue to be there, to care for His followers, to reveal Himself through acts of love. For us, it can be a neighbor or friend bringing something in a time of want or need. It can be that note or text or phone call when we need a little pick up or a little reminder of faith. It can be the Holy Spirit helping us to see with new eyes. Expect Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for remaining present, for being there in my life in so many ways. I praise you for the unexpected visits, for the ways you work in and through me, for the love and care you pour into my life. Thank you, God. Amen.